by Robert A. Lancaster, Jr. [written c. 1931]

Westover circa 1931

About the year 1674, William Byrd, first of the name in Virginia, and his wife, Mary, came to the Colony and settled at the Falls of James River. In 1688 Byrd bought the plantation of Westover and took up his abode there. About 1730 his son, William Byrd II, built the present mansion, which is one of the most imposing dwellings in the State [of Virginia]. Marquis de Chastellux declared in his Memoirs that Westover was the most beautiful place in America.

William Byrd II was a man of many resources, with a special interest in literature. He collected at Westover the finest library of colonial times. He was twice married, his first wife being Lucy, daughter of Daniel Parke, aide-de-camp to Marlborough. After her death he married Maria Taylor. His first wife was the mother of Evelyn Byrd, the celebrated belle and beauty. She was presented at Court at the age of eighteen, and was the toast of noblemen. The king expressed pleasure at finding his colonies could produce such "beautiful Byrds." Evelyn Byrd and her father and grandfather are buried at Westover. . . . .

Westover was not always the beautiful and peaceful place we see today. During the Revolution it presented a very different aspect. [Benedict] Arnold was there in 1781, as was [General] Cornwallis with his forces. During the War Between the States, McClellan's army camped there, and it was also used as headquarters by General Pope. An old picture, taken there during the war, shows army wagons and many horses in the yard and a "lookout" stationed on a platform built at the point of the roof. This picture also shows the ruins of the east wing of the dwellling which had been destroyed by fire.

The main entrance to the grounds was originally from the rear, through iron gates which swing between huge posts surmounted by balls on which stand falcons with outstretched wings. The interior of the mansion, with its great hall and stairway, its large, panelled rooms adorned with medallions and garlands, its deep fireplaces and carved mantels, massive doors with huge brass locks, is in keeping with the stateliness of the exterior, and proclaims it the home of culture and refinement.

The lawn, which stretches some 150 feet to the river, is of rich green, on which there are century-old trees standing guard. The garden is to the east of the dwelling. In it lied buried "The Black Swan," [a nickname for] William Byrd II, whose monument is in its center. One-half of this garden is planted in shrubs and flowers arranged in formal squares; in the other half are fruits and vegetables.

After the death of [William Byrd II] the estate was inherited by his son, William Byrd III, who left it to his widow, last of the name to own it. Westover has since had many owners, among them Colonel John Selden, Major Augustus Drewry, ... Mrs. Clarice Sears Ramsey[, and] Mr. and Mrs. Richard Crane.

This article was published in Frances Archer Christian and Susanne Massie, editors, Homes and Gardens in Old Virginia, Garrett and Massie, Incorporated, Richmond, VA, 1931.

Web edition copyright © 2002 Sarah E. Mitchell